Wednesday, February 23, 2011
Yesterday started out like any other Tuesday. I played tennis in the morning followed by a great run by the lake. After a stop at the grocery store, I headed home for a few hours before teaching some afternoon tennis lessons. Returning to my car after my lessons, I was looking forward to a quiet evening with Jignesh as french class was on Febuary break (yes, all Switzerland schools have a Febuary "ski" break). Well, the rest of the day did not exactly go to plan when I instinctively checked my mobile (which I had left in the car) while pulling out of the parking lot. A text from our neighbor, Frederic, indicated that there had been a minor fire in the flat directly above ours! Completely frantic and worried about Schlopy, who was home alone, I made like Mario Andretti and raced throught the streets of Geneva towards home. What I found was terrifying. Five firetrucks, 3 ambulances, and multiple police cars blocked the street. Onlookers had stopped to check out the commotion as dozens of emergency workers flooded the area. I slammed into the first available parking spot, grabbed only my keys, and ran as fast as I could to our building (yes, I might have knocked over an innocent pedestrian or two). Shaking, upse, and scared, I skidded to a halt and attemped to explain in French to the nearest firefighter that I lived on the third floor. Obviously my French was getting me nowhere as the guy just stared at me. Switching to Frenglish, I desperately repeated that my dog was in there. After calming me down, the firefighter found a English speaking colleague who escorted me to my apartment where I was relieved to find a terrified but safe Schlopy. While our flat was untouched except for some smoke and minor water damage, the flat above us was completely destroyed! Almost nothing remains in the charred ruins. The common areas of the building are a mess with broken windows, ash, and odors. I am sure the next few weeks will be filled with cleaners and repairmen. The cause of the fire is still unknown but is rumored to be caused by the older and medicated lady who lives in the destroyed flat. She was taken to the hospital for smoke inhalation while a resident from the fifth floor was rescued by ladder. Thankfully, both have recovered. I cannot begin to imagine what would have happened if the fire had lasted just a few minutes longer. While these events definitely made an everyday Tuesday a bit more exciting, I hope that next Tuesday will return to its mundane ways!
Friday, February 11, 2011
Marrakech, a city in the north African country of Morocco, is one of the most interesting and unusual places I have visited in my expanding list of destinations. Since Marrakech marked my first time in Africa as well as my first time in a Muslim country, I had no idea what to expect. Upon arrival, I found an overwhelming city of narrow alleys overflowing with donkey carts, bicycles, scooters, and kids constantly offering to show you around (for a price). But, after further examimation, I also found a city full of culture and religion that still manages to be inviting and beautiful despite the chaos. Jignesh repeatedly compared it to a calm India.
The Medina (old city) showcases traditional Morocco. Convential dress of head scarves and djellabas (long, loose-fitting robes) are abudant and five times a day the call to prayer from various mosques fill the air. Women are seen carrying buckets on their way to and from hammams (local steam baths) while men are either making or selling local goods. While there are a few sites to see (Saadian tombs, Ben Youssef Madrasa, and Koutoubia Mosque), the main highlights of the Medina are the Souks and the Djemaa el Fna.
The Souks (markets) can easily be a two day event on their own! Set in small, winding back alleys that are not always found on maps, thousands of vendors sell everything from spices to lanterns. It is a never ending madness of colors, shouting, and speeding scooters. While it is a fun to simple get lost while window shopping, it is a blast to actually enter the stall and bargain! Bargaining is expected and if you master the game, you can score some great deals while simultanously getting to know the locals and their culture.
Djemaa el Fna, one of Africa's busiest squares, is the heartbeat of the Medina. By day, locals and tourists gather to watch dancers, musicians, acrobats, and story-tellers while enjoying fresh squeezed orange juice from one of several stands. And yes, there are snake charmers throughout the square hypnotizing cobras with various instruments. By night, Djemaa el Fna becomes a huge open air restuarant as food booths take over.
If you want to escape all the mayhem of the Medina, there are a few options. One of the most popular is to stay at a riad. Riads, traditional Moroccan homes with interior courtyards and rooftop terraces, are commonly remodeled into restaurants and B&B's. Riad Safa (http://www.riad-safa.com/), our chosen home for the weekend, was a wonderful oasis. Our first night we enjoyed an amazing tajine dinner and every morning we started our day with a traditional Moroccan breakfast. In the evenings we got relaxed with some other guests and learned a lot about Moroccan culture, politics and everyday life by the riad's caretaker, Brahim.
If a riad does not do the tick of calming your nevers after a day of bargaining and nearly getting killed by a scooter, then head to Gueliz. Gueliz, a neighborhood outside of the old city, is modern and liberal. Fashion reflects western influences as store sell popular name brands. New and renovated flats/houses line the strees. Restaurants even sell alcohol and a few nightclubs provide an active nightlife.
While not necessarily relaxing, this trip was undoubtedly eye-opening and demonstrates one of the reason why I love to travel...to see and experience different cultures, religions, and ways of life.